The first session of the ‘17/’18 Field School was a great success! We had to cap enrollment at 40 students, which packed the classroom at the Jonesborough Farm Bureau last Thursday evening!
The topic for this first session was “A Vision for Your Farm,” and covered how to create vision and mission statements, business planning resources available to farmers, and checklists for starting a new ag business in TN. We know a lot of people just want to get out into their fields and plant their veggies or set their livestock out, but without a solid business plan in place, it’s impossible to know beforehand if a new venture will make a profit or not. And that’s what we want: new farms that are both environmentally and financially sustainable!
As the old saying goes, “A failure to plan is a plan for failure.”
However, your farm business plan doesn’t have to be a lengthy and complicated document. The only homework that we assign for the year is for each student to fill out the Farm Credit One Page Business Plan. This plan is short and sweet, but does contain a lot of useful parts to consider when planning. Our first presenter of the evening, Susan Crum, provided good definitions for the following planning terms:
Vision Statement – A clear, comprehensive “photograph” of what your farm will look like in the future.
“To operate a family-based and sustainable agri-business that provides solid returns for both landowners and our operation so future generations can continue in farming.”
Mission Statement – A short set of guiding principles that describe why and how you farm.
“To provide for our expansion and growth and better serve our landowners and team members.”
Objectives – What you want your farm business to be in the future, with a focus on meeting your mission statement. Pick up to four to concentrate on. Too many objectives may spread you too thin when you are starting an operation.
“To operate a 50 share CSA.”
SMART Goals – This acronym stands for “Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Timed.” What are you going to do? How will you know you’ve accomplished it? Is it a realistic goal given your circumstances? Is it worthwhile for you to pursue? What is your timeline for reaching it? List at least two SMART Goals for each objective.
“Create a crop plan for each of the 20 crops in my CSA by December”
Action Plan – The steps you are going to take to accomplish each goal, outlining who will do what, when, where, how and how often.
“Order the seeds I need in January”
As you can see, the business plan progresses from general statements to very specific action items. We encourage students to fill out their business plan after the first session. However, we know that going through the year long course of the Field School will cause them to alter their initial plans, sometimes drastically! It’s a good exercise to document these changes, to know how your farm vision has progressed. Steve Mallory, owner of Hope Farms in Greeneville and former Field School student, had this to say, “I was so inspired after the first session that I filled out my business plan objectives that night. But things changed a lot during the year. My plan is now more realistic for what we are able to do!”